A million 'friends' to be taught how to spot dementia

Experts believe the new initiative could double the diagnosis rate to 80 per cent

One million people are to be taught how to spot the early signs of dementia as part of a drive to spread knowledge about the illness and improve the care of sufferers.

David Cameron will also announce today that the Government will trial new medical technology that could potentially reduce the time it takes the NHS to diagnose dementia from about 18 months to only three months. GPs will use iPad-compatible software to test people’s memory, and should be able to tell whether they have normal or abnormal memory in 10 minutes.  Those needing further investigation will be referred to a specialist brain centre.  Two pilot schemes will cover about 200 patients next year.

An estimated 400,000 dementia sufferers in the UK are not diagnosed and experts believe the tests, if introduced nationally, could double the diagnosis rate to 80 per cent. The number of sufferers is expected to double in the next  30 years.

Mr Cameron, who launched his Dementia Challenge in March, will give a progress report today as he outlines plans to recruit “Dementia Friends.”  People will be educated in free sessions in church halls and workplaces on how to detect  tell-tale signs of the condition and provide support to family, friends and colleagues.  The hope is that the initiative will also help the public understand the illness.

The Prime Minister admitted that general awareness was “shockingly low”.  He said: “We cannot underestimate the challenge we face in dealing with dementia in our country.  There is still a long way to go in fighting the disease but together we can improve the lives of millions.”

From today people wishing to become “Dementia Friends” can text “Friend” to 88080 or visit dementiafriends.org.uk.  The Government hopes that one million will volunteer by 2015.  People will get a badge with a “forget-me-not” symbol after completing their training, so they can be identified as being able to help sufferers.

Other measures include requiring health care professionals to ask all patients aged between 65 and 74 about their memory as part of every standard health check. A £1m prize fund will reward any NHS organisation  finds ground-breaking ways to  reduce the number of undiagnosed people with dementia.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society said: “Dementia is everyone’s problem and we all need to be part of the solution. Day- to-day tasks such as going to the shop or catching a bus can become increasingly difficult for people with dementia. Without a helping hand, this can mean people are left feeling isolated, unable to be part of their community and in some cases even unable to continue living at home.”

The priority given to early diagnosis and increasing public awareness of dementia will be highlighted next week when the Government publishes its “mandate for the NHS” over the next year.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “At a cost of £23bn  a year to the UK economy, we all agree that dementia is not a problem we can ignore.”

He added: “Finding treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias is no easy task, but it’s one we must tackle if we are to make a real difference to people’s lives.”